Older blog entries for ncm (starting at number 411)

After giving the matter deep and thorough consideration, I can, with utter confidence, recommend against kidney stones. No, sir, I didn't like it. You know how people are always telling you that you need to drink an unreasonable amount of water every day? It turns out that's so you won't get kidney stones. Women who have had them say it's the closest a man can experience to the pain of childbirth. It impressed me. Oddly, the symptoms didn't at all match what the books said about kidney stones, but the nurses and doctors all instantly pegged it. The pain wasn't in my back, but seemed to be in my colon. Apparently all those prostaglandins sloshing about inflame everything nearby. I can also say that hydrocodone (Vicodin) works very, very well on kidney stone pain.

Has everybody else noticed that Google Maps doesn't work as well as once did? Often, lately, it leaves tiles unfilled. But it seems better than it was a couple of months ago.

I never had any real doubts about whether the new Systemd replacement for init.d and Upstart was a good idea. Certainly, the architectural justification for its design seemed sound. Then, I saw on Linux Weekly News that it cannot function if your partitioning isn't just so. In particular, it seems, you'd better not have /usr mounted on / from another drive or partition. Yes, really. Now, on most of my machines /usr isn't mounted, so that doesn't affect me directly, but such choices drain confidence. (That, and PulseAudio still doesn't work right.) It makes me wonder what other crazy bits are in there.

I've finally taken up Git. I know I'm late to the party, but I can already say without fear of contradiction that the correct solution to every problem, difficult or trivial, begins with creating one or more branches, in much the same way that every cake recipe begins with washing your hands and preheating the oven. If you're not creating an improbable number of branches, you must be doing it wrong.

The weird failures on Intel i5 ("Arrandale") display hardware, on laptops, continue. Apparently the fixes aren't expected to make it into mainline linux until 2.6.39. The kernels in drm-intel-next have been getting worse, so I'm still on a snapshot based on 2.6.37-rc8.

Once again, I have remedied the entire lack of audio functionality on a Linux box by purging all the Pulseaudio-related packages, and /etc/asound.conf. While my respect for Lennart is second to none's, my success rate with PA has thus far been zero vs. a remarkably large N. I am finding it hard to blame myself for that, in the wake of my recent success finally getting the Intel Arrandale graphics subsystem on my laptop working.

5 Jan 2011 (updated 5 Jan 2011 at 05:03 UTC) »

Avery's "redo" build tool looks really interesting. It might, by itself, justify his existence.

* * *

Thanks (again) to the many who have expressed sympathy for my health problem. I guess I wasn't clear enough, though: my memory problem has been solved with medication. It has side effects -- loud ringing, jaw clenching at night, waking at 5 AM, and "dry mouth" -- all manageable. I'd like to reduce my dosage, but dare not without objective testing to determine whether the symptoms have begun to return.

It's interesting to explore how complicated short-term memory failure can be. I didn't have any trouble remembering what I had read, or seen, or done. What caused the most difficulty was loss of what might be termed intentional memory, the register of planned future actions. Everybody forgets, sometimes, what we went into the next room to fetch, but we remember that we had meant to fetch something. I didn't. Not always, but the stack overflowed much more easily. Similarly, I could remember three digits, but add three more and any of them might be scrambled.

* * *

My brother tells me Android jumped the shark in their 2.2 release. Now you need 500M of RAM just to run a minimal system. He blames the proliferation of background tasks that can't be turned off, and that insist on running even when they have no work to do, coupled with garbage-collection. He says the machine spends all its time oom-killing and garbage-collecting background tasks, and then restarting them and killing others, so it can't even keep up scrolling with his finger. Apple may have been right to restrict background tasks on the iPhone, but the undisciplined memory habits endemic to Java coding make it deserve most of the blame.

It has been a calmly terrifying last few months. I found I couldn't program any more. When I tried, I would just get sleepy. I left work on medical disability insurance. The mental health people really had no idea what to do, so they just tried different chemicals. Of course they started by diagnosing ADHD and prescribed amphetamines, which were a disaster. As it turned out, my problem was a curiously failing short-term memory. Oddly, it didn't interfere at all with reading, cooking, driving, or grocery shopping. I was just lucky they found, more or less by accident, something that helped. Neurologists have objective tests that would have narrowed the problem, but Kaiser wouldn't let me see any of their neurologists. Hints that it was a memory problem were that I could never remember how I came to be web-surfing instead of coding, and that I couldn't remember an IP address long enough to type it in, or a phone number long enough to dial it.

A few weeks back my wife and kids abandoned Google Chrome, which they used to like, as too buggy, and have gone back to Firefox. The latest version might be better.

My kids and I have been enjoying Osmos ($10). My son has been enjoying Algodoo (~$30), and Numptyphysics (Free), 2D physics simulations. He got a "Spy Trakr" for Christmas, a sort of remote-control tractor with a camera, microphone and speaker, and a little color display on the remote control. What I didn't know at first was that they have a free SDK for it, an ARM Gcc toolchain.

When my mother-in-law's Shuttle went on the blink, I replaced it ($85, Craigslist) and switched her from Ubuntu Edgy to Debian Squeeze, Firefox 2 to Iceweasel 3. She's happier now.

I've installed Squeeze candidates twice. Both times, I tried to install it from a USB thumb drive. Both times, the BIOS insisted it could boot from USB, but did not recognize the Debian boot image as something to boot from. Both times, I ended up burning a CD. Both times, the installer ignored the packages on the CD, and instead demanded a network connection, and installed everything from a mirror.

12 Sep 2010 (updated 12 Sep 2010 at 06:22 UTC) »

Today was the day to remember the United States has announced itself cowards before all the world. Will we ever regain our pride? Not until the last torturing murderer protected by the Pentagon is in chains.

10 Sep 2010 (updated 10 Sep 2010 at 03:26 UTC) »

Who says sociology doesn't have anything useful to offer? This paper, L-worlds: The curious preference for low quality and its norms, by Diego Gambetta and Gloria Origgi, explains so much about so much that the world will never look the same. It explains why offering good free software to people used to expensive bad software just irritates them. It explains why well-reasoned discussion isn't welcome in blog comments. It explains Safeway supermarkets, American cars, and television.

I'm still trying to get this Dell E6510 with integratedIntel Arrandale graphics working. Lately it's been overheating, although I don't know whether to blame linux or Dell. During a long kernel build, it hovers around 101C (spiking over 105, with emergency shutdown) in an X terminal, but around only 75 C without X. Starting a compile jumps the temperature by 18K in a couple of seconds, and stopping drops it by 20K in about the same time.

More mysteriously, the Synaptics touchpad doesn't show up as anything but a PS/2 mouse, so edge scrolling etc. doesn't work. Lots of workarounds are offered all over the web, but none of them help.

To everyone upset about Oracle going on a Java litigation rampage, I have only one thing to say: you had plenty of warning. So, I just laugh. Next, let's see what happens with Mono.

Incidentally, the Ekiga web page, uproariously, recommends installing OSS 4 in order to get it working. Um, no thanks. I won't be installing BeOS either.

8 Aug 2010 (updated 8 Aug 2010 at 07:12 UTC) »

Got the intel "Centrino Advanced-N" 6200 wifi working on this Dell. That meant downloading a "firmware" archive, iwlwifi-6000-ucode-9.221.4.1.tgz, from Intel's site, and dumping iwlwifi-6000-4.ucode into /lib/firmware. ("apt-get install firmware iwlwifi" might do the job, but that has version 9.193.) I also had to run "rfkill unblock all", and make sure the rfkill switch was off. ("rfkill list" helped.) Astonishingly, somebody actually thought it would be a good idea for the wifi connectivity light on the keyboard to flicker whenever net activity happens, i.e. all the damn time. To fix it, I had to create a file /etc/modprobe.d/iwlcore.conf containing "options iwlcore led_code=1". Now it's just on, steady, when wlan0 is up. Seems like a good default to add to module-init-tools.

I tried setting up pulse-audio on another (intel HDA) box. The process was distressingly similar to the last time, two years ago, e.g. manually editing /etc/asound.conf. Results seem a little more successful than last time, but I made the mistake of trying to use Ekiga to test it. Ekiga appears to be too buggy, still, for the results to mean anything.

5 Aug 2010 (updated 5 Aug 2010 at 07:14 UTC) »

The Inconsolata typeface looks incomparably better in Emacs with "slight" hinting, but other faces, particularly Linux Libertine O, which I use everywhere that I don't want a monospace face, really needs hinting. What to do? I added


    <match target="font">
        <test compare="eq" name="family">
           <string>Inconsolata</string>
           </test>
        <edit name="autohint" mode="assign">
            <bool>false</bool></edit>
        <edit name="antialias" mode="assign">
            <bool>true</bool></edit>
        <edit name="hinting" mode="assign">
            <bool>true</bool></edit>
        <edit name="hintstyle" mode="assign">
            <const>hintslight</const></edit>
    </match>
to my /etc/fonts/local.conf, and then set Gnome's hinting back to "full", and then cycled Emacs through a font change so it would pick up the new setting. That worked for Emacs, but not for gnome-terminal. Apparently Gnome programs make gnome-appearance-properties settings override fontconfig settings. There's a bug filed about that over at Canonical, not that anything's been done about it:
https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/fontconfig/+bug/161058
You may recognize from there where I got the code above.

At least Emacs and my Linux Libertine text look good. I have given up and switched to Deja Vu Mono for my terminals.

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